Canada will spend more than $200 million to acquire multiple new air defence systems, with an eye toward increasingly lethal battlefield drones.

The investments mark the first time since 2012 that Canada’s armed forces will have an air defence capability.

The new air defences will support Canadian forces stationed in Latvia, where Ottawa leads a multi-national NATO battle group known as an Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP).

Canadian defence minister Bill Blair announced the new acquisitions at a NATO meeting in Brussels on 15 February.

“By investing in air defence and anti-drone capabilities for Canadian troops, we are also bolstering the defensive capabilities of the NATO Battle Group in Latvia as a whole,” Blair says.

The new air defence purchase includes a variety of platforms, with the main focus being a $169 million (C$227.5 million) acquisition of Saab RBS 70 NG short-range air defence missiles.

Saab RBS 70 NG

Source: Saab

Canada plans to field the portable Saab RBS 70 NG laser-guided anti-air missile later this year, marking the first time since 2012 the country has had internal air defence capabilities

The man-portable RBS 70 NG is effective against the full spectrum of targets, including helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and uncrewed aerial systems (UAS) in a range of sizes.

Saab describes the missile as being powered by an “unjammable” laser guidance system, equipped with auto-tracking technology.

Separately, Ottawa will also spend $34 million on what it calls the Counter-UAS Project, to purchase non-kinetic air defence measures specifically tailored to protect against small UAS.

These platforms use electronic warfare to jam, disrupt or destroy enemy drones, which are increasingly common – and deadly – on the modern battlefield.

The Counter-UAS Project includes an $18.5 million order for Leonardo’s Falcon Shield fixed site UAS detection system, a $14 million order for US-based CACI’s BEAM 3.0 portable electronic attack system and C$2 million for Orion-H9 “drone disruptor” energy rifles from Singapore’s TRD Systems.

Cheap, plentiful and lethally-armed UAS have become significant threat in modern combat, rapidly proliferating in recent years. Their widespread use has been observed in Ukraine and the Middle East in recent months.

The Canadian-led EFP stationed in Latvia includes troops and assets from Albania, the Czech Republic, Italy, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.

Last December, Canada announced it will begin a long-term rotational deployment of rotary-wing assets to support the Latvia EFP starting in the summer of 2024.

The new initiative will include four Bell CH-146 Griffon utility helicopters and an unspecified number of Boeing CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift rotorcraft that will arrive in 2025.